Let’s give a new gen­er­a­tion the work skills they need

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business Comment - SHERRY COUTU Sherry Coutu is a se­rial en­trepreneur, and founder and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Founder­s4S­chools

The UK is fac­ing a se­ri­ous skills cri­sis. Hardly a week goes by with­out this grac­ing the head­lines. Most re­cently we’ve seen low lev­els of skills out­side of the cap­i­tal blamed for the nose­dive in pro­duc­tiv­ity. Fig­ures show that this has been Bri­tain’s worst decade for pro­duc­tiv­ity for over 200 years. The skills short­age has had a part to play.

Engi­neer­ing UK es­ti­mates that 1.8m more tech­ni­cians and en­gi­neers will be re­quired by 2025 to meet in­dus­try needs. Philip Ham­mond, the Chan­cel­lor, also sounded the alarm last week – call­ing for the North of Eng­land to reach its po­ten­tial. But this is not sim­ply a North­ern is­sue. The skills cri­sis touches ev­ery cor­ner of the UK, and we need to act now if we are to safe­guard our com­pet­i­tive­ness.

There con­tin­ues to be a lack of in­vest­ment in train­ing at work, as a re­sult of cut­backs made dur­ing the last re­ces­sion. How­ever, I be­lieve that in­ter­ven­tion is needed at an ear­lier stage if we are to suc­cess­fully re­duce the skills gap and im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity lev­els in the UK.

It is a story with two sides. On one side, com­pa­nies are cry­ing out for tal­ent. Skills short­ages are cost­ing busi­nesses £2bn a year, ac­cord­ing to the Open Univer­sity, and 82pc of scale-ups re­port that they could grow their busi­nesses if ap­pli­cants had the re­quired skills.

But on the other side, young peo­ple are not get­ting the sup­port they need to reach their own po­ten­tial. The In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors has re­ported that more than two thirds of busi­nesses feel sec­ondary schools do not ef­fec­tively pre­pare chil­dren for the world of work.

Un­cer­tainty around the fu­ture of work also means that the next gen­er­a­tion needs to be flex­i­ble and hold key soft skills if it is to thrive. Yet busi­nesses re­port that skills such as com­mu­ni­ca­tion, team work­ing, and time man­age­ment are sorely lack­ing among school leavers and grad­u­ates.

In­creased in­ter­ac­tions with the work en­vi­ron­ment will be­gin to solve this. The more time stu­dents spend in place­ments be­fore start­ing their first jobs, the less time em­ploy­ers will have to spend help­ing them to ad­just.

This is why there needs to be greater in­ter­ac­tion be­tween ed­u­ca­tors and busi­nesses. I’ve seen how pow­er­ful this can be through Founder­s4S­chools. In­tro­duc­ing the next gen­er­a­tion to the work­ing world, by bring­ing en­trepreneurs and busi­ness lead­ers into class­rooms up and down the coun­try, is ef­fec­tive. But we need to go one step fur­ther be­cause work ex­pe­ri­ence is key.

If the next gen­er­a­tion of tal­ent can spend mean­ing­ful time in busi­ness en­vi­ron­ments it will help them hit the ground run­ning when they do start full-time work. But the per­cent­age of stu­dents ac­cess­ing qual­ity work ex­pe­ri­ence is dis­mally low. The cur­rent cur­ricu­lum does not sup­port it, and while two thirds of busi­nesses say work ex­pe­ri­ence is a crit­i­cal fac­tor in hir­ing young peo­ple, only one third ac­tu­ally of­fers it, ac­cord­ing to the House of Lords se­lect com­mit­tee on so­cial mo­bil­ity.

The com­mit­tee points to an­other prob­lem­atic area of work ex­pe­ri­ence. Young peo­ple to­day of­ten source place­ments for them­selves – re­ly­ing on the net­works of fam­ily and friends. This puts many at a dis­ad­van­tage.

Founder­s4S­chools set out to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the work ex­pe­ri­ence land­scape in the UK. We spoke to schools and busi­nesses around the coun­try, and the find­ings con­firmed our be­lief that the cur­rent model is bro­ken.

This re­search car­ried out by the Cam­bridge Judge Busi­ness School found that only 63pc of busi­nesses have of­fered work ex­pe­ri­ence in the past 12 months. Mean­while, over half of the schools re­ported plac­ing less than three quar­ters of their stu­dents, and 14pc stated that none of their stu­dents se­cured work place­ments in the past year.

As an in­vestor and founder of the ScaleUp In­sti­tute, I know there are le­gions of ex­cit­ing, growth com­pa­nies across the UK who would rel­ish tap­ping into and help­ing to cre­ate a pipeline of tal­ent. But th­ese com­pa­nies are not al­ways front of mind when teach­ers and par­ents are guid­ing young peo­ple’s work ex­pe­ri­ence choices, and they of­ten don’t have the re­sources to mar­ket them­selves.

The prob­lem is clear, but how do we solve it? Fit­tingly, our in­spi­ra­tion came from a work ex­pe­ri­ence stu­dent. Maitri Pan­chal was on a place­ment with Founder­s4S­chools and, hav­ing en­joyed her­self, sug­gested that there should be a ser­vice to rate work ex­pe­ri­ence. This sparked an idea: there should be an app for that. But not sim­ply a ser­vice to rate work ex­pe­ri­ence but to also find and ap­ply for op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Through ex­ist­ing part­ner­ships with the likes of LinkedIn and DueDil, Founder­s4S­chools is able to ac­cess com­pre­hen­sive in­tel­li­gence on com­pa­nies across the coun­try. And so Work­finder was born.

It is a tool for young peo­ple to ex­plore great growth com­pa­nies and find op­por­tu­ni­ties. It will al­low them to dis­cover the work­ing world on their own terms. At an event at the Crick In­sti­tute last night, we launched the plat­form with a call to ac­tion for busi­ness lead­ers ev­ery­where to join us and of­fer the next gen­er­a­tion mean­ing­ful path­ways into work.

With the sup­port of am­bi­tious busi­nesses, we can cre­ate equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple in ev­ery cor­ner of the UK. Be­cause if we en­able the next gen­er­a­tion of tal­ent, we en­able the next gen­er­a­tion of busi­nesses too.

‘Engi­neer­ing UK es­ti­mates 1.8m more tech­ni­cians and en­gi­neers will be re­quired by 2025 to meet in­dus­try needs’

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